So you finally got a primary care physician (or PCP) and you've resolved to actually start going for a yearly check-up. But if you've not been keeping up with your preventative care and tests — or even if you have — there are some basics things on which everyone could use a refresher.
Methodist Healthy System is here to explain a few common health mysteries, from how to prepare for a physical to what those tests really mean.
Before: what to bring
Gather your own medical history and that of your immediate family. Jot down things like chronic illnesses, past and current diagnoses, and surgeries, and make note of any current medications (including over-the-counter) and their dosage that you take regularly. Also don't be afraid to bring a written list of questions for your doctor — you might forget to ask something in the moment.
During: being tested
Usually your appointment will begin with a nurse taking your vitals and weight. For blood pressure, a normal range is less than 120 (the systolic, or "upper" number) and less than 80 (the diastolic, or "lower" number). If your systolic is 120-129 your blood pressure is elevated, and 130-139 over 80-89 means you have stage one hypertension (or high blood pressure). Higher than 140 over higher than 90 is stage two hypertension, and if you're 180-plus over 120-plus it's a good thing you're already with a doctor, because that's an emergency situation.
A healthy temperature is around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, while a normal heart rate is usually between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Your respiration rate should fall between 12 and 16 breaths per minute — more than 20 can suggest heart or lung problems.
If your doctor thinks it's appropriate, you might be screened for illnesses such as diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, cancer, or others. A sample of your urine will likely be tested, along with your blood for things such as cholesterol and other chemical panels.
Women who don't also regularly see a gynecologist will also receive a pelvic and breast exam, while men will have their prostate and testicles check for abnormalities.
After: the follow-up
Your doctor will be in touch with your test results, and arrange for treatment if needed. They will also advise if it's time to schedule age-related tests such as a baseline mammogram (at age 40) or colonoscopy (at 50). If you receive a clean bill of health, congratulations! Keep up the good work until next year.
Need help finding a doctor? Use Methodist Health network's online search tool or call 877-637-4297 to find a PCP, OB/GYN, or other specialist who's right for you.